Spring is traditionally a time of new beginnings, and this spring is no different. But oh, what a difference.
This spring, new beginnings are tied to new difficulties and new endings—the difficulties of living in quarantine, of keeping our distance from our loved ones, even when they fall ill; and the ending of so many lives, of our way of life.
There has always been death and devastation. It’s just that this time, it’s at our doorstep. To succumb to it, to whirl inside its force, is to lose your life while living.
So on the cusp of sixty, even in the midst of these difficulties and endings, I am not succumbing; I am adapting and moving forward. I am re-beginning.
My wife and I have decided to move back east, so we can be closer to our families after living two thousand miles away for twenty years. Thus in the very midst of the pandemic, we are preparing to change locations, change jobs, change lifestyles.
This was an extraordinarily difficult decision. We love Colorado, and we love the dear friends we’ve made here. And while we are by no means leaving for good–we’ll be back often, to visit Stephen, to hike the mountains, to visit with our friends, and who knows, maybe to live here again–it is certainly the end of something. But at the same, it’s a new beginning for us and our families: we’re excited to see them more often, to care for our parents if and when they need our care, to spend fun weekends in our favorite city, and to vacation with them–especially by the ocean, which I sorely miss.
This will also signal a new beginning for our relationship, which has already evolved (beautifully) during our cross-country quarantining experience of the last two months, first in Prague, then back home in Colorado. “Stuck” with each other in Prague as the quarantine went into effect , and then again when we were sent home to another quarantine at the end of March, we learned to live differently, less distracted and less busy, with more quiet time together, more focus. We have spent pretty much every hour of every day together for the past two months, and haven’t had a single difficult moment; indeed we have relished this opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, whether on a long walk, or reading, or doing yard work, or binge-watching a TV show, or cooking for each other, or enjoying zoom happy hours with friends and family. And we have given each other space for doing our jobs or engaging in creative projects. And I’m going to try to stay this way–less busy, less stressed, and devoting several hours a day to my writing–from now on, even with the stress and excitement of a new job (I will be directing the MFA program at Wilkes University) looming ahead.
This will signal a new phase in my life as a parent as well. Cait moved to Chicago last year, and now we’ll be living far from Stephen. This, then, will be the most emotionally difficult part of our move. Having lived apart from one another for years during their childhoods, our relationship was revived and strengthened (a definite re-beginning) when they attended Regis (where I currently work) for college and then remained in Denver after they graduated. Now, I will be doing my best to maintain our strong and beautiful bond while living far from them both . Another beginning.
And finally, I am re-beginning my career as a writer. I just finished a new novel that has taken me years to complete, and while my agent shops it around, I have started another. My three novels, then, will be very different from one another–the first (White Plains) a novel-in-stories, the second an attempt at an American epic, the third a simple novella, set in Prague. And after the third is done, probably by this summer, I have another in mind, a book of true crime.
In other words, I am creatively re-energized. I want always to improve as a writer, to grow with each book. And I’m eager to continue to write stories that bring meaning to, and hopefully grace, my readers’ lives.
In short, I am not hiding in a corner, waiting out this pandemic, or fearful of aging. I am paying attention to the beauty in all of us as well as the evil in our midst, and I am reminding myself, every day, that both are at once omnipresent and true. I am taking precautions, but am putting neither my inner life nor outer life on hold. I am going outside, every day, opening my heart to the budding trees, bushes, and flowers in a way I never did when I was young. I am writing every day (an act of faith, of love, a grounding meditation in itself), doing my best to convey the beauty that flourishes in spite of, or even because of, disease and misery. I am staying open when everything inside me wants to close up shop. I am waking up grateful, every day–for my wife, my children, my students, my family, my in-laws, and friends, and I am sending out my sorrow, my concern, my love, to them all. And acting in this manner, as opposed to being overwhelmed and busy and distracted every day, is a new way of life for me, truly a new beginning.
Who knows how many years I have left? I refuse to sit around, worrying or whining. Instead I vow to accept our current bizarre situation, take care of myself and my loved ones, do the things I love, and be the best person (and the best husband, father, brother, son, son-in-law, professor, director, dog-owner, neighbor, and friend) I can be. And continue to grow, and evolve, even as I age, in spite of the molecules of death floating all around me–taking my cue from nature, inured to or indifferent to this contagion, continuing to blossom and grow.
So I begin.
[Originally a guest blog for www.daddyelk.com]